Page 43 - Australian Defence Magazine Oct 2018
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and Defence
For the pollies, this program has proved wildly popular with more than 350 place- ments since the trial run in June 2001. Some enjoy it so much they’ve conducted multiple placements.
The various activities have included visits to operational areas including Afghanistan and Iraq. Participants aren’t placed where they’re likely to be shot at but neither are they treated with reverence.
In one of the program launch functions at parliament house some years back, one former participant recounted the highlight of his placement at RAAF Amberley and the mess room advice that the best way to prepare a nervous stomach for a flight in a F-111 was a really big breakfast.
Despite repeatedly and energetically un- eating breakfast during the flight, he still reckoned it a truly awesome experience.
The parliamentary program would ap- pear a success at exposing politicians to defence, its personnel and the many complexities of defending a large island nation in an increasingly precarious stra- tegic environment.
But does the paucity of actual military ex- perience among politicians mean Australia is less well served when decisions are made on defence matters. It would appear not.
A quick survey of the list of Australia’s defence ministers indicates the last with actual military service was Liberal Jim Kil- len (1975-82), a member of the RAAF in WWII, discharging in 1945 with the rank of flight sergeant. There have been plenty of defence ministers since.
Your correspondent is hard pressed to think of any decision which might have been better made by a defence minister or prime minister with a military back- ground. Going to war in Iraq in 2003 could be the exception.
Some of the newer MPs with military experience bring a different and useful per- spective.
For example new Centre Alliance Sena- tor Rex Patrick is a former submariner with a strong interest in shipbuilding, especially Future Submarines. In a program of this duration and complexity, it would appear imperative to have someone knowledgeable asking the difficult questions, as annoying as that might be to a whole lot of people.
But would it follow that Jim Molan, with his vast operational service in Iraq and else- where could make a better defence minister than Christopher Pyne, a career politician elected in 1993 aged 25? We are unlikely to find out any time soon.
With politics in the news and new ministers abounding, your correspondent is revisiting an issue considered some time back. That’s the extent of military experience among the current crop.
OUT of 226 federal politicians – 150 mem- bers of the House of Representative and 76 Senators – 19 have served in the Australian Defence Force.
That’s 11 MPs and eight Senators - 8.4 per cent - possibly a little higher than in some recent years but nothing on the pe- riods between the wars and after WWII when servicemen (and it was almost ex- clusively men) dominated public life and service organisations, specifically the RSL, wielded unprecedented power.
On party lines, nine coalition politicians have prior military experience, four Labor and six from the crossbenches.
The military experience ranges from brief periods in the Army Reserve and its predeces- sor the Citizens Military Forces (CMF), right up to career service culminating in high rank.
On his parliamentary biography, Oppo- sition leader Bill Shorten lists two years of teenage Army Reserve Service (1985-86) long before entering politics.
New Liberal Senator Jim Molan joined the Army in 1968 and retired in 2008 with long operational experience and the rank of Major General.
Senator Peter Whish-Wilson is the only current Greens politician with military ser-
vice – he may even be the only federal Greens pollie ever with actual defence service.
He apparently planned a military career, attending the Australian Defence Force Academy then Royal Military College be- fore medically discharging in 1989. Ap- propriately, he’s the Greens parliamentary spokesman on defence, as well as spokesman on a diverse range of green portfolio areas in- cluding healthy oceans, waste and recycling.
Four federal politicians came to Canber- ra after police service, including Malcolm Turnbull challenger Peter Dutton. Three of the four came from the Queensland Police Service, making the sunshine state constabulary a not insignificant launch pad for Canberra.
Early in his time as PM, John Howard re- alised that fewer and fewer politicians had actual experience of military service and oversaw creation of the Australian Defence Force Parliamentary Program, which gives interested MPs and Senators exposure to defence activities through placements, typi- cally around a week.
That works both ways – selected mem- bers of the ADF are hosted by different pol- iticians during a parliamentary sitting week to see how the other side works.
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